Positive Psychology in Health and Wellness Coaching

I had reason recently to reflect on coaching generally as a means of supporting people with change and I also had reason to remember that coaching for behaviour change around health and wellness related areas has some slight differences to coaching for broader change. All coaching works and any (good) coaching is an excellent way of helping someone while leaving the power firmly in their hands, however health and wellness coaching has some unique features that I wanted to remind us all of today. One is the importance of positive psychology underpinning everything that we do. The reason for this need is the fact that so many times our clients have experienced failure in the past when trying to create new lifestyle habits. They may automatically associate goals that they so dearly would love to achieve with failure, frustration and a lack of confidence. Positive psychology fosters hope and optimism – two very important things when it comes to increasing a person’s confidence around success!

So when I was asked by a student which books I would recommend as additional reading, I explained that there were too many to list, yet close to hand, happened to be Positive Psychology Coaching, by Robert Biswas-Diener and Ben Dean which I picked up and waved around in front of the camera for everyone to see. This book, I said, is essential reading for any coach who wants to work in the field of health and wellness. I then thought perhaps it’s time to remind us all of some key aspects of this science and how it fits so well in our work.

I will start by paraphrasing the authors’ comment that using positive psychology is more than just another tool in the professional toolbox but instead an approach to life and work that can affect people in profound ways!

Much of the book focuses on the concept of happiness and we are reminded that happiness is not just about avoiding sadness or trying to experience high levels of joy, but instead they it is a condition that is “mildly pleasant, common but not permanent and includes some (but not complete) satisfaction with most (but not all) aspects of life. If someone is chasing happiness there is a chance it will elude them. Instead developing healthy goals, maintaining good relationships and engaging in positive thinking habits will bring greater satisfaction.

There are many interventions that are used in positive psychology. We teach quite a few of these in our training at Wellness Coaching Australia. The VIA character strengths is a wonderful way of bringing awareness to a client of aspects of their personality or behaviour that are born from their personal strengths. By using these strengths and applying them to new situations it is possible to boost wellbeing for a sustained period of time. Counting blessings, recording what went well, and engaging in acts of kindness to other people will inevitably give big returns.

Two other useful tools to explore

PERMA has been used by Butler and Kern to create the PERMA-profiler which allows a person to measure which areas they score highly in and which may need some work.

Another exercise that can be used when working with VIA character strengths was created by Rashid and Anjum and can also be found following the reference below. this great article provides ideas of ways to use specific character strengths and is a great tool for coaches. Hopefully this short summary of the importance of positive psychology has reignited your interest in it and the two references provided will create a valuable addition to your toolbox.

I am aware that I did state that the importance of using Positive Psychology was just one way that defined health and wellness coaching and perhaps made us a little unique. There are others which I promise to expand on in a future article. For now…

The PERMA Profiler
Butler, J., & Kern, M.L. (2016). The Perma-Profiler: a brief multidimensional measure of flourishing. International Journal of Wellbeing, 6(3), 1-48. Doi:10.5502/ijw.v6i3.1

Can be found at www.authentichappiness.org but is not to be used for commercial purposes.

340 ways to use VIA Character Strengths
Rashid, T. & Anjum, A. (2005) University of Pennsylvania

Biswas-Diener, R., & Dean, B. (2007). Positive Psychology Coaching – putting the Science of happiness to work for your clients. Wiley & Sons, NJ.

Fiona Cosgrove